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Parshat Massei (5765)

In the end of this week's Torah portion we find the commandment of the Cities of Refuge; to set aside certain cities in Israel where Jews who accidentally murder someone could find sanctuary from the victim's family who, according to Jewish law, could take revenge.

But at first glance this is not understood. First, why should someone who murdered accidentally be 'open game' for revenge?

Second, if he is open game, then why make a place where he is immune?

Third, today there are neither cities of refuge nor permission to take the law into our own hands so what does this commandment mean to us now?

Here is a story to help explain.

For four years my family and I lived in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak- famous for its multitude and diversity of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

One of the main sources of livelihood in this holy Torah city is ' Kollel'; a place where married men learn Torah and get paid for it from donations given by Jews who want to support Torah learning.

In the four years I was there I must have learned in over ten such Kollels, often three a day; early morning, late at night and one in between. But one especially stands out in my mind.

It was a late night Kolleland its head was a SatmarChassid.

Most Kollelshave a 'head'; a very learned Rabbi who can help with any difficulties and questions that might arise in the course of learning. And ours was this SatmarChassid.

He was a fairly young fellow, perhaps in his thirties and he had a pleasant personality, and was a genius; there was virtually no subjectsin the Talmud or Jewish law that he wasn't familiar with.

For some reason he took a liking to me and, because we lived in the same direction from the Kollel, it often came out that I accompanied him as he walked home.

He was a virtual bundle of energy and, although he was a bit shorter than me, he walked at a very brisk pace, talked constantly, and I had to make an effort to keep up with him.

This went on for two or three months. We would walk while he discoursedTorah ideas, often trying to get me into the topic, while I just tried to keep up with him.

But he never mentioned the topic of Chabad, although I knew it must be burning somewhere in his soul. Maybe it was because we had to see each other every evening for several hours in Kolleland he didn't want to make an issue of it.

Now, for those of you who don't know, SatmarChassidim, despite their being refined, charitable and earnest people, have a burning hatred for Zionism and anyone who doesn't agree with them in this area.Zionism, they justly claim, is a political ideology designed to destroy Jewish identity; denying G-d and his Torah, and replacing it with patriotism and culture.

And therefore they also officially hate Chabad, because Chabad reaches out to EVERY Jew despite their political or religious convictions.

In fact, I once was in the middle of a very pleasant conversation with a SatmarChassid, who, when he discovered I was a follower of the Rebbe, exclaimed "What? Chabad!?!" turned on his heel and almost ran away!

Back to our story; the head of this KollelI was learning in never spoke to me about Chabad until one evening.

We were walking home as usual when, after a few seconds of pregnant silence, he asked:

"Tell me, I know that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is a holy person and a great Torah Scholar, maybe the greatest. But what is he doing with all those ' Tzionim' (Zionists)? How can he talk to them? Why, it's forbidden to even look them in the face!!" And he rattled off over ten Torah sources as proof.

I really was hoping that I could avoid a confrontation (which turned out to be the end of our friendship) and I also didn't really feel I had the knowledge to answer properly but I had to say something. He was waiting for an answer.

So I sort of looked down as we were walking and said,

"Well, the Rebbe believes that everyone can do ' Tshuva' (loosely translated 'repentance', it really means 'return' to the total awareness of truth and G-d that is in the essence of the soul.)

I didn't hear a reply so I just kept walking and began to explain when suddenly I noticed that....I was walking alone! He wasn't there!

I stopped, turned around to see that he was still standing in the place where I had answered him.

I walked back to see if something was wrong. He was just standing there nervously pulling on his beard, deep in thought repeating over and over again " Tshiva(that is how they pronounce ' Tshuva'). Hmm. Tshiva. Hmmm. Tshiva."

I was amazed. It wasn't part of his scenario that people could really totally change themselves.

But the Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches the opposite: that everyone, both the biggest sinners as well as the most righteous Jews not only can and must constantly strive to change totally for the better but even more; deep down, every Jew WANTS to do these things.

They just need education and encouragement.

This answers our questions. The cities of refuge were places designed to educate and encourage sinners to do ' tshuva'. The reason it was for 'accidental' sinners is that when the 'soul' i.e. the true self is revealed it is impossible to deviate from the truth. So sins are a really the result of a sort of 'temporary' insanity; no one really can sin purposely.

And even accidental sinners are punishable by death to indicate that one who 'sins' is, albeit inadvertently, cutting himself off from his source of life.

And that is why the Cities of Refuge (i.e. doing ' tshuva') protect from 'death'

But all this will be even more relevant to us in the days of Moshiach. Then the Cities of Refuge will return in greater number than before to enable everyone to do ' tshuva' and return to their true identity.Indeed, this is the main job of Moshiach; to bring everyone to recognize the Creator and His blueprint of creation; the Torah.

But it all depends on us; just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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